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From Underdogs to Champions

By Mastura Tasnim

It was a cold night in Berlin, Germany that two young men laid a red and green flag on a table draped in white in a hall full of 1500 pairs of foreign eyes and three other contenders. The stage was brightly lit and the rest shrouded in darkness as one of the two, dressed in a golden punjabi, stepped in front of the podium to deliver a speech that would become history. And so, a country born a mere 42 years ago out of the desire to have its voice heard became the champion of the ultimate stage for that voice.

World Universities Debating Championship is a tournament held each year to determine the individuals with the greatest wit, determination and sheer charm. This year 82 countries and 400 teams participated in the competition and when team BRACU-A, consisting of Ratib Mortuza Ali and Aaqib Farhan Hossain, representing Bangladesh, broke into the quarter-finals of the English as Secondary Language category of the tournament, which basically consists of teams from most of Europe, Asia and South America, the Bangladesh debating community were over-joyed. But quarter-finals just weren't good enough.

As yours truly caught up with the champions on Skype, Ratib assured us, “We didn't come here to qualify for quarters. We came here to win it.”

Keeping that in mind, they proceeded to semis and later on to finals. By that time, the internet was on abuzz. At 2 am, people were posting pictures and laying promises for what they would do if team BRAC actually won it. There were prayers and bated breaths, and someone was planning to name their firstborn Ratib Farhan while someone else was figuring on slogans for the two. Many people who were never interested in debate were caught up in the excitement that resembled the hype before a Bangladesh cricket match. But even then, no one from Bangladesh could actually believe they were at the finals.

“This is like the World Cup of Debating. Except there are 400 teams to compete with!” says an excited debater.

At the finals, there were two teams from the Leiden University, from the Netherlands, one from Raphael Recanati International School from Israel and facing them off on the other side, Team BRACU-A from Bangladesh. Poverty-ridden, flood-famous Bangladesh, considered as a participant of the competition since 1991, was now representing Asia in a WUDC ESL final.

Says Mubarrat Wassey, (previous record-holder as the Bangladeshi with highest speaker points in WUDC), “Debaters from other countries never took us seriously. It was a shame to lose to us since we were technically whipping boys. All of that just changed.”

It had indeed. After a final, an audience poll is taken to determine the speaker that was most favoured by the crowd and aptly named 'Darling of the Audience' and this time around, the speaker was none other than the golden boy, Ratib Mortuza Ali. As Facebook exploded with Ratib 'Darling' Ali comments, everyone and anyone could guess which way the wind was blowing. Live Tweets from people all around the world were already predicting the results to be in our favour.

Hundreds of people sat in front of their computers at 5:45 am Dhaka time to live-stream the presentation ceremony from Youtube. And when the winners were announced and Ratib and Aaqib proceeded onto the stage with the red and green flying between them, many a parent woke up to jubilant debaters shouting and dancing, and even crying. In Berlin, Bangladeshi debaters from all institutions united as one in their pride for these two young men who had upgraded their status from underdogs to champions.

But Aaqib believes this is only the beginning. “We've come far by the road that our predecessors established for us, but there's a tougher path to tread. We need consistency and we need to want to win it. The psychological ceiling we imposed on ourselves is broken and Bangladesh is the new poster-child for Asian debate. For now though, it's still hard to believe we won.”

Although Ratib, who's graduating from BRAC with a degree in Economics, and Aaqib, who's graduating from Finance and Management, will both be coaching the Bangladesh team that will be heading for the World Schools Debating Championship this year, they've both decided to retire. In the meantime, they will try not to drown under the hundreds of commendations from well-wishers around the globe for being the first ever champions from not only Bangladesh, but also South East Asia. And while that is going on, people are trying to sell them on the marriage market as eligible bachelors because being a debater is suddenly desirable in men. When asked them what they thought of that, Ratib smiles a little and says, “Well, being ESL Champions means that women from all over the world, including Eastern Europeans, Scandinavians and South Americans find you attractive. So I don't think the market price will be too low.”

Hear hear!

Julian Marley and the Uprising:
Celebrating Bob Marley, Reggae and More

By Rannia Shehrish

The room slowly filled up with audience and gradually the number of empty chairs decreased while acoustic guitars playing classical Spanish tunes swirled around the dimly lit hall. The concert was being delayed and impatience and anticipation was making the wait worse; not to mention the background music which was frankly getting annoying with every passing moment. But we were here for Julian Marley, Grammy winner and son of one of the most iconic musicians of our time. They say music runs in the family and if that was the case, we were really in for an unforgettable night.

Finally, after about an hour, the host took stage introducing the opening act – Miles. The band played three of their very popular songs and as a tribute to the legend Bob Marley they performed 'Waiting in vain'.

Uprising took to the stage next. The song started – 'Say yo! Say yeah!' and just before the end Julian Marley ran up on stage and took over the end of the song. The crowd burst into applause finally seeing the devout Rastafarian on stage.

The audience swayed with all the songs including 'These are harder days' and 'Lion in the Morning' and when 'On the Floor' started, they were on their feet dancing along with Ju Ju (his nickname), who I must admit is quite a unique dancer. The show ended with Bob Marley numbers, 'Everything's gonna be alright' and 'Get up, Stand up' – quite a nice finish to a wonderful night. To top off the great music, the lighting was completely in sync with the beats and the whole performance, though simple, was quite remarkable. But that's the beauty of reggae. It doesn't aim to shock you, it slowly fills you up with an unbending peace until you find yourself swaying with the beats.

There were some mishaps along the way, though. The sound system stopped working suddenly during the middle of one song but Julian and the drummer improvised, like any brilliant musician, and for a while there was stunned silence as Julian's soft voice filled the hall with only slow drum beats to back him up. It was that very moment that summed up the night for me. You didn't need flashy lights or props to make a show great. All you need is the desire to play music and spread the love.

Following in his father's steps, the 2009 Grammy nominated artist reminded the audience of unity and love throughout the concert, 'reggae music is all about love' and that night all the reggae lovers were truly unified by the music under one roof.

The concert was held in Bangabandhu International Conference Centre last Friday (4th Jan) at 7. It was organised by Creinse and helped by BPL team Duranto Rajshahi, KFC and Coca-cola. It was truly an unforgettable experience.


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